Musings on Clay, etc

Musings on Clay, etc

As the tennis world transitions to the red stuff in the run up to Roland Garros, we ask: are modern players more capable of competing over all courts than their predecessors?

Hark back to Spring 2004 and Guillermo Coria had just reached the final at Roland Garros, in the process achieving a new high ATP ranking of 3. This may or may not have been enough for some juvenile delinquent to bowl into the local bookies and splash his/her last two pounds on the said 100/1 shot doing the business at upcoming Wimbledon.

The problem here being that world number 3 did not translate into third favourite at Wimbledon for one good reason; the court surface.

A hard but quick lesson was learnt. The sport of tennis was riddled with court specialists.

Fast-forwarding thirteen years, do we still see the same level of disparity in players’ ability to compete over different surfaces?

Somewhere between then and now, there was a memorable match at Roland Garros involving Maria Sharapova and Patty Schnyder. Sharapova eventually won out 9-7 in the 3rd, but her movement on clay was more akin to Bambi on ice than a professional athlete. Presumably any others to witness the event still wake up to this day in disbelief that the Russian is a two-time French Open champion.

Sharapova’s eventual successes can be attributed to hard slog on clay away from the cameras. A similar thing can be said for Andy Murray’s better-late-than-never trophy haul on the crushed brick.

These are two examples of players who have developed their games on a particular surface, yet as we swing around the hard-clay-grass roundabout, there is often only passing comment on players’ abilities to cope on each court type.

Digging deeper statistically it’s easy to see why, particularly when it comes to competing on clay. Take two examples of classic ATP ‘big men’ Berdych and Anderson. Both would traditionally be considered to have “large” games suited to quicker courts. However, their record over the last year, in terms of percentage wins on clay/other, reads 67/67 and 67/70 respectively.

Conversely, let’s look at two players associated with clay court prowess. Nadal and Thiem boast records of 96/82 and 81/56 respectively using the same measure. There is clear disparity in these numbers, particularly so in Thiem’s case.

While this is barely a legitimate sample size, add it to the context of court trends on the ATP & WTA tours and it’s hardly surprising. Across both, there is a total of 38 clay court tournaments compared to 9 on grass. Couple this with the general acceptance that court speeds have decreased in recent years – backed up by measures such as Ace counts, rally lengths and Court Speed Index stats – and it’s clear that modern players must be highly competitive on clay courts and slower courts in general in order to make waves at the top of the sport. In fact, it’s possible for players to forge a career being wholly competent in only this environment. Just ask Charlie Berlocq.

2018-04-07T05:11:26+01:00 April 7th, 2018|ATP, Betting Analysis, Results analysis, Roland Garros, WTA|0 Comments

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